Playing for time

The best board games you can play in under an hour

November 27, 2013
November 27, 2013

Often, the winter holiday season provides the opportunity to relax and take some time away from work with family and friends. Families in the US spend most of their leisure time watching television and using electronic devices. Board games present the perfect opportunity to get out from behind the screens and do something together.

Despite the myriad alternatives, board games have been on the rise in recent years, led by Germany’s worldwide hit Settlers of Catan, which has sold over 25 million copies. The game was first released in Europe in 1995 and took off in the US around 2007, in part because German-style games like SoC are different from traditional board games that feature long waits between turns and a single path to victory. It opened the door for other, new kinds of tabletop games. According to industry reports, in 2011, the most recent year for which figures are available, the hobby game market, which includes board, role-playing, and card games, grew 20-25%. That same year the global market for hobby games reached $2.2 billion.

But some of the most popular games can be a devastating time suck. Risk requires a time-commitment reminiscent of elective surgery—often 5-7 hours. Settlers of Catan takes an hour-and-a-half and spending 3-4 hours playing Monopoly is distinctly less appealing today than when that game was launched in 1935. Game makers have responded to our busier lifestyles by offering games that are “snackable,” or playable in shorter periods of time. Just last year, Hasbro released a version of Monopoly, the best-selling branded board game, that can be played in 30 minutes.

Games that take one hour or less, are uncomplicated, and can be picked up quickly by anyone are on the market, despite the ubiquity of on-the-go, gaming apps like Candy Crush Saga and Angry Birds.

Here are Quartz’s picks for the best time-efficient tabletop games. Some are board games and others are card games. There’s even a game of chance. They are suitable for all ages and have a good balance between game length, ease of play, and the fun factor. (Game durations are estimates using the popular gaming community site BoardGameGeek.)

If we’ve left out any of your favorites, please add them in the annotations to the right.

Fluxx  (15-30 minute game time) is a dynamic card game that takes its rules from the cards itself. As gamers draw a card, the rules for how to play and even how to win, change. At one moment the endgame might be to play the “rocket to the moon” pair and then it might suddenly be the “time is money”cards. The game is for 2-6 players and has many themed variations, including Pirate Fluxx, Zombie Fluxx, and Monty Python Flux.  ($15.99 retail)

Bananagrams (15-30 minute game time) is a tabletop game for 2-8 players that is reminiscent of Scrabble except that it’s played without a board and there are no turns. Players dump 144 letter tiles out and split them, with each player taking the same number of tiles. Then the participants race to see who can complete a crossword-style grid. The first person to use all of his tiles wins. ($14.99 retail)

Dominion (30-45 minute game time) is a card game in which players take the role of a monarch responsible for building a kingdom.  The 2-4 participants draw and play cards representing treasure, military victories, and improvements to their castle and dominion. Whomever has the richest kingdom (the most victory and treasure cards) when the cards run out wins.  ($44.99 retail)

Pass the Pigs (30-45 minute game time) is a novelty dice game for 2-10 people. It’s based on the classic dice game “Pig,” and requires players to cast miniature pig figurines like dice, with scores based on the poses the pigs land in. For example, both pigs landing on the same side is worth 1 point, but if both land on their snouts the player scores 40 points. The winner is the first to reach 100 points. ($13.99 retail)

Ticket to Ride (45-60 minute game time) is a board game for 2-5 people similar to Settlers of Catan. In it, players race to construct a railroad across North America, collecting cards that represent train cars and destinations. Players earn points for each completed route. ($49.99 retail)

Carcassonne (45-60 minute game time) for 2-5 players, is set during the Middle Ages in France. It’s a twist on a typical board game: players build the board piece-by-piece during the game. As each player takes her turn, she places a game board tile and a game piece on that tile, trying to build the most roads, cities, and monasteries, before the last board piece has been played. ($34.99 retail)

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